India favourite to seal series despite middle-order blues

Despite convincing victories in Chennai and Kolkata, largely shaped by an impeccable bowling unit, Virat Kohli's men will realise they need to overcome a plaguing issue soon before the run-up for the 2019 World Cup starts.

Barring Manish Pandey (in picture) and Kedar Jadhav, who have tasted intermittent success, none of the other batsmen have been able to make a case for a permanent slot in the middle order.   -  AP

Last year’s navratri festival marked Holkar Stadium’s first Test. Come another navratri and Virat Kohli’s comrades are back in a laidback city that is often referred to as mini-Mumbai for its cosmopolitan diaspora.

No wonder then that as the Indian team slogged it out at the Holkar Stadium for almost three hours in the sweltering afternoon heat, the streets outside the stadium were flooded with fans waiting for a glimpse of their favourite stars. With Kohli's cavaliers just a win short of sealing the five-match One-Day International (ODI) series against Australia and the customary frenzy following the Indian contingent, it may seem as if the Indian contingent had little to worry about.

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However, despite the convincing victories in Chennai and Kolkata, largely shaped by an impeccable bowling unit, Kohli's men will realise they need to overcome a plaguing issue soon before the run-up for the 2019 World Cup starts. For almost two years now, India has been searching for a set middle-order.

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Barring Manish Pandey and Kedar Jadhav, who have tasted intermittent success, none of the other batsmen have been able to make a case for a permanent slot. With Pandey and Ambati Rayudu having been sidelined due to injuries, the national selectors were forced to fall back on Yuvraj Singh for the Champions Trophy.

The selectors appear to have moved on from Yuvraj, who is tilting towards the end of a glittering white-ball career. Rayudu is yet to prove his fitness; Suresh Raina is far from proving his fitness and form; and Dinesh Karthik failing to impress on yet another return to the team in the West Indies. It has forced the selectors and the team management to fall back on specialist openers being moved in the middle order.

As a result, K. L. Rahul has been moved around in the pecking order since the Sri Lanka series. And Ajinkya Rahane is considered to be a reserve batsman in the unit. If Shikhar Dhawan, who had to leave the squad just before the start of the series to be with his ailing wife, returns for the last two ODIs, India could well have four specialist openers in the squad, with Rahul and Rahane doubling up as back-up openers and middle-order batsmen.

It appears as a problem of plenty, with the middle order wearing far from a settled look. It is high time India finds a settled No. 4, 5 and 6 in its batting line-up.

Must-win for Australia

While India has to deal with minor issues, Steve Smith's unit is staring at a demoralising series loss. If Australia has to keep the series alive, it will have to improve its faltering batting unit. Steve Smith would be hoping for either David Warner or Glenn Maxwell to play a sensible innings rather than trying too hard against India's wrist spin combo of Kuldeep Yadav or Yuzvendra Chahal. If it doesn't, the last two rubbers could well be rendered to a meaningless exercise.

The teams (from):

India: Virat Kohli (c), Rohit Sharma, K. L. Rahul, Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav, Ajinkya Rahane, M. S. Dhoni (wk), Hardik Pandya, Axar Patel, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami and Ravindra Jadeja.

Australia: Steve Smith (c), Ashton Agar, Hilton Cartwright, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Pat Cummins, James Faulkner, Aaron Finch, Travis Head, Glenn Maxwell, Marcus Stoinis, Matthew Wade (wk), David Warner, Adam Zampa and Peter Handscomb.